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NBA Playoff Journal (Final 4)
by Larry Ness

The Celtics hardly looked like a team capable of winning the East after the team finished 50-32 during the regular season, good enough for just the East's fourth seed. No one seriously thought that Boston could stand up to LeBron and the Cavs plus the Celtics had won just ONE of eight regular season meetings against the Magic (No. 2 seed) and Hawks (No. 3 seed). Many were predicting Boston to struggle in its opening series vs the Heat. However, Boston easily dispatched of Miami in five games and after blowing a big lead in Game 1 of its series with the Cavs, won FOUR of the next five games, to take the series 4-2. The Celtics held the Cavs to 86.5 PPG in their four wins (Cavs averaged 102.1 PPG during the season) and were 8-0 SU and ATS this postseason when holding opponents to under 100 points, entering the Eastern Conference finals.

The Magic hadn't lost a game since April 2, reeling off 14 straight wins (13-1 ATS), including an 8-0 (7-1 ATS) run in the playoffs. The lone non-cover came by less than a FG and on average, had outscored opponents 101.0-to-83.8 PPG during the postseason. The Celtics opened the Eastern Conference finals with an impressive 92-88 win over the Magic in Orlando on Sunday. Boston led by as many as 20 points in the third quarter and withstood a big Orlando rally in the 4th quarter. Boston's win came despite Rondo (20.7-6.3-11.8 vs the Cavs) getting just eight points and eight assists on 4-of-10 shooting. Allen had 25 points and Pierce 22-9-5.

Carter (23) and Nelson (20) had solid games for the Magic but Howard (13 points, 12 rebounds and five blocks) both shot poorly. Howard made just 3-of-10 FGs and looked frustrated by Boston's big men. Lewis made just 2-of-10 FGs (0-of-6 on threes), as the Magic scored the fewest points this postseason (88), had their the lowest FG percentage (41.6), the lowest three-point FG percentage (22.7 on 5-of-27 attempts) and the worst assist-to-turnover ratio (10 assists to 18 TOs) of any postseason game to-date. Boston is now 9-0 SU and ATS when holding an opponent under 100 points this postseason and the Magic face these daunting facts after Sunday's loss. Orlando is 1-10 all-time in postseason series when losing Game 1, including 1-5 in best-of-7 series.

The Western Conference finals opened Monday night in LA with Suns having been off since May 9 and the Lakers since May 10. The Lakers found themselves tied with the youthful (and talented) Thunder after four games of their first round series (1-3 ATS) but LA won six straight games (5-1 ATS) while averaging 107.2 PPG to reach their third straight conference finals. Kobe averaged just 21.8 PPG through his first five postseason games but then reached 30 points in each one of his next five, averaging 32.0 PPG. The Lakers have a solid eight-man rotation but there can be little doubt that Gasol has now joined Kobe as one of the NBA's elite players. He destroyed the Jazz (23.5-14.5) and has averaged 20.2-13.1 while shooting 56.4 percent from the floor through LA's first two series.

Richardson (21.9 PPG on 51.0 percent shooting) has led the Suns in scoring through the first two rounds with standby's Stoudemire (20.5-7.0) and Nash (17.8-9.0 APG) still making major contributions. Phoenix goes eight-deep (like LA) and after losing its first game of the postseason at home to the Blazers (105-100), won EIGHT of nine (also 8-1 ATS) to reach its first conference final since 2006. The Suns got their season turned around right before the break with a 5-1 SU and ATS spurt. They then DIDN'T trade Stoudemire and went 23-6 SU (20-8-1 ATS) after the break. Throw in the team's 8-2 SU and ATS mark this postseason (through two rounds) and the Suns have gone 36-9 SU and 33-11-1 ATS over their last 45 games.

Game 1 was all Lakers last night, as LA cruised to a 128-107 victory. Kobe had 40 points by early in the 4th quarter and has now scored 30-plus points in six straight games (33.3 PPG during that stretch), the longest postseason stretch of 30-plus games since Shaq did it seven straight times back in 2003. The Suns were concerned with LA's 'length' coming into the series and were out-rebounded 42-34. Matchup problems with Gasol (21-5) and Odom (19-19) have to be worrisome for the Suns going forward. The Lakers shot 58.0 percent as a team and have now won seven straight playoff games (6-1 ATS) while averaging 110.1 PPG.

The Suns got Robin Lopez back (first appearance this postseason) and while he scored 14 points and added six rebounds, he wasn't much of a factor. Stoudemire had 23 points but just three rebounds, which has to be a concern. The Suns' backcourt played well, as Nash (13 points / 13 assists) and Richardson (15) had decent games plus Barbosa (11) and Dragic (13) combined to make 10-of-15 shots while scoring 24 points off the bench. However, the Suns face this daunting stat after losing Game 1. Phil Jackson coached teams are 46-0 all-time after winning Game 1 of a series, including 22-0 in LA.

Home teams dominated the first round going 32-13 SU (.711) and 29-16 ATS (64.4 percent), as just one of the opening round's eight series ended in a four-game sweep (Orlando over Charlotte). Home teams opened the second round in much the same manner in which they finished the first round, winning seven of the first eight games, while going 6-2 ATS. However, three of the four series ending in 4-0 sweeps (all but the Celtics/Cavs series), with visiting teams winning eight of the final 10 games (also 8-2 ATS).

Adding in the first two games of the conference finals and the postseason numbers to-date are 42-23 SU (.646) for home teams and 38-27 (58.5 percent) ATS. Incredibly, there have been exactly 31 overs and 31 unders with three pushes through the first two-plus rounds. Those following the Zig Zag theory survived the first round going 19-18 ATS but got 'buried' in the second round, going 3-11. The postseason numbers after two rounds stand at 22-29 or minus-9.9 net games. Game 2 of the Eastern Conference finals is tonight on ABC at 8:30 ET. The Magic are favored by seven points and the total is 189.

Good luck...Larry

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